Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association Names Alexander, LeFauve And Runyon To Hall Of Fame

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association Thursday announced formation of a hall of fame to recognize individuals and organizations for outstanding contributions advancing the automotive industry in Tennessee.

Members of the inaugural class of the TAMA Hall of Fame are:

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who, as Tennessee governor from 1979-87, recruited Nissan and General Motors to establish major auto manufacturing and assembly plants in the state, and set the foundation for future auto industry growth through state-led economic development initiatives.  

Richard G. “Skip” LeFauve, the first president of General Motors’ Saturn Corporation.  Appointed by GM in 1986 to lead development of GM’s innovative Saturn operation in Spring Hill, LeFauve served as Saturn president until 1997 when he was named GM senior vice president for global leadership development. Mr. LeFauve, who had a 41-year GM career, died in 2003.

Marvin T. Runyon, former CEO of Nissan North America, who supervised construction of major Nissan assembly and engine plants which opened in Smyrna in 1981.  Nissan’s light truck manufacturing facility was, at that time, the largest auto manufacturing investment in Tennessee and served as a catalyst for the industry in Tennessee. Mr. Runyon died in 2004. 

Creation of a TAMA Hall of Fame coincides with the organization’s 25th anniversary, and reflects the current prominence of automotive manufacturing in Tennessee’s economy, said Thomas Brewer, chairman of the TAMA Board of Directors and general manager of the Workforce Development and Conference Center at Northfield.  

“Auto manufacturing surged from a vision, 30 years ago, to what it is today – a powerful component of our state’s economy and the livelihood of so many Tennesseans," said Mr. Brewer.  "Tennessee is one of the top auto manufacturing states in America.  These three visionary leaders built the automotive manufacturing industry in Tennessee and laid a foundation that led to growth and the growth that TAMA sees will occur in the future.

“Then-Governor Alexander put us on the map. The Nissan and General Motors operations were led by two dynamic executives, Marvin Runyon and Skip LeFauve, who achieved great success and set Tennessee on a course to become one of the top states in the nation for auto manufacturing.” 

Said Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, “The birth and growth of automotive manufacturing in the South has been one of the most historic developments in our nation’s business history.  The entire region can be proud of this monumental achievement, which shows every indication of growth far into the future. That growth will not only supply the world with quality cars and trucks but will drive employment for many years to come.

“The Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Hall of Fame could not have chosen three more worthy inductees than Lamar Alexander, Marvin Runyon and Skip LeFauve,” said Governor Haslam.  “As governor, Lamar Alexander showed a vision that has seldom been matched. Much of the success seen in Tennessee today in the automotive industry is tied directly to his performance as governor.  Marvin Runyon was the consummate manager, and his leadership at Nissan was proof that a plant could be run as well in Tennessee as anywhere else in the world. Skip LeFauve led Saturn from 1986 to 1997, and Saturn became a cultural phenomenon. We are forever indebted to these three leaders. The industry has an exciting future today because of the foundation they laid.”

Said Ken Knight, complex manager of GM Spring Hill Manufacturing, “Skip LeFauve played a critical role in bringing General Motors through the Saturn Corporation to Spring Hill. His legacy went beyond the Saturn Corporation and extended into GM through his role as senior vice president for global leadership development. Today, employees throughout the company benefit from programs at GM Learning, formerly GM University, which he founded, incorporating key lessons learned through the Saturn University. We're pleased that the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association chose to name Mr. LeFauve into its inaugural class of the TAMA Hall of Fame.” 

Said Bill Krueger, vice chairman of Nissan Americas, “The success of Nissan in the state of Tennessee is directly tied to the leadership of Marvin Runyon.  Mr. Runyon built a world-class manufacturing plant from the ground up, and his impact can still be seen with the continued success of Nissan’s U.S. manufacturing operations.  Mr. Runyon had an extraordinary career path, but to those in the automotive industry, he will be always be revered as an innovator and a pioneer.”

The Hall of Fame and its inductees will be presented Thursday by TAMA in Chattanooga at the Southern Automotive Conference, a regional auto manufacturing meeting that rotates among Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama and involves industry executives from across the country. 

The TAMA Hall of Fame will be showcased on the organization’s Web site, www.tennauto.org

Building a Foundation

When Alexander was elected governor in 1979, Tennessee’s business profile in the automotive manufacturing industry was limited to parts supply, and the state did not have an original equipment manufacturer.  Alexander successfully convinced Japan-based Nissan to build a manufacturing plant in Smyrna, and that facility rolled out its first truck in June 1983. The plant now makes more than 500,000 cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles a year.

Two years after the roll-out, General Motors announced the desire to construct a new plant to build its innovative Saturn vehicle line.  Dozens of states competed for the opportunity, but Governor Alexander convinced GM leadership that it could compete head-to-head with a Japanese counterpart by locating less than 50 miles away.  Construction on the Saturn operation began in Spring Hill in 1986, and the facility rolled out the first Saturn automobiles in 1990. 

Today, automotive manufacturing is one of the state’s largest and most powerful industries. Volkswagen became Tennessee’s third OEM in 2008, and the state now has more than 900 automotive manufacturers and supply companies. The auto sector employs about 110,000 people and has an annual payroll of more than $6 billion.  More than one-third of all manufacturing jobs in Tennessee support the automotive industry. 

About the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturer’s Association

TAMA started in 1987 in response to Tennessee's rapidly growing automotive manufacturing industry.  The organization provides unique networking and educational opportunities through its membership meetings. TAMA's diverse membership includes OEMs (General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen); Tier 1, 2, and 3 suppliers; government agencies; and professional services organizations that have specialized expertise in the automotive industry.  Find out more about TAMA or become a member at TennAuto.org.

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